Why don’t we ask whether men can have it all? We dismiss the question because we continue to expect women to juggle career and home in a way that we don’t expect of men. But that needs to change for organizations to fully tap into their female talent and truly make staying at home a choice available to both moms and dads. Re-framing the question of whether women “can have it all” is central to the advancement of women at work, and directly correlated to the role of men in the home.
TO HAVE OR NOT TO HAVE IT ALL
The question, “Can women have it all?” rests on a set of assumptions about women’s roles. Persisting gender stereotypes perpetuate beliefs that women are better equipped for childcare and men are better in the boardroom. This effects the numbers when it comes to women in leadership and it effects the choices men make about staying at home.
When men are free to stay at home, then women will truly be free to focus on work and receive the same kind of support that men often get as they climb to the top of their professions.
Hogan Hilling, former board member of The National At-Home Dad Network and co-author of Dads Behaving Dadly, says men are still disparaged for choosing to raise their kids. “People wanted to know when I am going back to work. For years I heard that I was a bum,” said Hilling, who was a stay-at-home dad for 20 years.
“One of the great things about the women’s movement is recognizing their capabilities as leaders in the work world,” Hilling said. “That gave us the chance to prove our worth in the home. What can be more masculine than raising your kids?”
There are 2 million at-home dads in the United States, according to The National At-Home Dad Network. At-home dads can free up women who want to focus on work, says Al Watts, president of The National At-Home-Dad Network and co-author of Dads Behaving Dadly.
“My wife flies all over the country. She can do that because she does not have to worry about lunches or kids or doctor’s appointments,” Watts said. “Because I stay home with the kids, my wife has more options at work.”
Both agree that more men would stay at home if there were less stigma associated with it.
WANT TO CHANGE PERCEPTIONS OF WOMEN? THEN CHANGE PERCEPTIONS OF MEN.
We seem to agree that we want to move past female stereotypes. However, we continue to stereotype men.
Watts observes that popular media often portrays dads as “idiots” when it comes to caring for kids or preparing dinner. And that’s insulting, he says. “We are equally capable parents. But there are perceptions that men should be a certain way and women should be a certain way.”
“Parents don’t realize that right from the start, they are already stereotyping young children. Boys who want kitchenettes or dolls are discouraged. How will they learn to nurture?” Hilling asks. In general, outspoken, rough and tumble, adventurous girls are also discouraged from those behaviors. Of course, there are always exceptions.
A BIASED INDUSTRY
“It is interesting, when it comes to caring for kids, daycare is trusted more than dads – that is ridiculous,” Hilling said, noting that some women trust their children with strangers in daycare more than with their own husbands.
“We are so ingrained with the idea that women are better with kids. I was so frustrated by these stereotypes,” he said. “We actually had boys babysit our kids because we were so frustrated by the idea that only girls could do the job.”
Hilling notes a general lack of support systems for dads. While some organizations do accommodate fathers, their default gear is toward mothers.
“The parenting industry is so mom biased. Preschool, baby classes, and elementary schools – these are not father friendly. As far as support systems, it is not comparable to what we do for moms,” Hilling said. “Given the lack of support, dads have done a great job!”
SHIFT THE PARADIGM
Even in traditionally female dominated fields such as grade school education, cooking, nursing, and non-profits, the top management posts go to men; and it is not because women don’t want these positions. Women have been graduating college at higher rates than men in ALL developed countries, and they continue to be underrepresented in leadership across the board.
Let’s make it possible for both genders to thrive in and out of the workplace. Let’s expand our definition of “masculine” to include caring and nurturing amongst other things. By recognizing the many, many boys and men who already are sweet, caring and nurturing, we validate their masculinity and broaden the choices available to them. Likewise, our expanded definition of “feminine” can include words such as powerful, ambitious, adventurous and driven.
Let’s eliminate the word “tomboy” from our vocabulary and let strong, determined girls know that they are perfectly feminine. Let’s celebrate women for their power and ambition outside the home and support the men who choose to stay at home.
This means building a more supportive social framework that allows for a broader set of choices by everyone – whether that is to stay home, work or do both. Let’s not keep asking the same questions and hope for different results. Let’s start asking a different set of questions when it comes to women’s advancement. Let one of those questions be whether men can have it all.
Sangita Kasturi is the CEO of Action Inclusion, bringing deep expertise, strategies and workshops in organizational diversity, leadership and change management. She speaks frequently on the topic of women leaders and transformative change. For more information, visit http://www.ActionInclusion.org or email [email protected]
By Sangita Kasturi
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